Witch Trials is a book written back in 2003 by professor of American History, Marc Aronson, who is explaining what really happened in the trials at Salem village (today's Danvers) (1692-1693). There are many books that write about these witch trials, but sadly, they are not always based on facts. He starts by stating that Tituba was Indian and not African. There is no evidence that she was performing rituals, yet the girls were practicing augomanteia (egg divination) to see who they are going to marry. After that, the girls felt guilty and they started to see the devil all around them, accusing their neighbors of witchcraft.
As you have read in our previous blog posts, articles, and book reviews of how people saw witchcraft and magic in the previous centuries. For them, witchcraft was a heresy of the devil to make people feel worse, to harm their neighbors and their local society. The same thing happened in America and this story of killing innocent people was a result of propaganda against witchcraft. The book starts with a story of a weak woman questioned about witchcraft and when she denies the accusations, the accuser said that needles are piercing her skin, to press the victim to say what the judge wants her to say. Weak women, were those who were considered "unlucky" by the society, thus having no man to protect them, and the victims were mostly women (80% in England). So, the easy target of the mass hysteria was a weak woman, a divorced or unmarried one.
The book is easy to read, very interesting, and objective. Marc Aronson presents the facts in a clear way and by following his structured thought you will understand what happened and why it happened in Salem. He starts with social analysis and then we see the chain of the events. The only drawback of the book is that it examines only the witch trials and doesn't investigate if they were witches in Salem village. It is a helpful book for anyone who wants to read what really happened. It is also informing to understand how educated people were thinking and how easily they believed anything and their lack of logical thinking.
After the narration of the events, the author provides information about books on the subject that were read at that time, and later he writes a medical explanation. This hysteria was caused due to spoiled wheat that was cultivated in the village. This theory proved to be incorrect.
The result of this witch-craze is 14 women and 5 men hanged, 5 died in prison, 200 people were accused.
What Happened In Salem Village
First Incident in Boston
The prologue starts with the possession of the Goodwin children in Boston in 1688. A young girl Martha Goodwin accuses the maid of missing some linens. The woman defends herself using bad language and the girl felt sick. The doctor said that she was attacked by witchcraft. She was taken to jail and the Goodwin children were healed. A minister arrived at the house, named Cotton Mather. The local society were puritans, a heresy (protestants) with the belief of devotion to religion, hate against Catholics. This heresy was established in New England. Cotton Mather took Martha to his house to study her behavior. Eventually, he believed that she was assailed by the devil.
Putnams and Porters
Europeans arrived in Salem in 1626 and they wanted to create a close puritan community. The Putnams were farmers on non-so profitable land. The Porters were farmers but also they worked with trading. Those two ways, farming vs commerce brought new ideas to New England and Salem, it was a conflict of two worlds. The new influence of merchants was not compatible with the puritan community of Salem's village. The Porters had a significant influence on judges, the church, and local affairs. In 1688 a new minister arrived in the village, Samuel Parris and in 1692 he started to talk about a war between good and evil so that everybody should be alert.
Nine-year-old Elizabeth Parris (Cotton Pari's daughter) and her niece Abigail Williams seem to used some folk magic, egg divination to see who they were about to marry. The girls had a strange behavior after this practice, like itching. Others appeared to have the same symptoms after the girls. The author notices that instead of asking how did the girls let satan rule them, everybody asked who sent him to the girls. The scapegoat was Tituba, an Indian slave, who practiced English witchcraft, which she learned in the Salem village. She suggested making a cookie from the urine of the girls and giving it to the dog. The first person who would meet the dog would be the witch. The dog went to Titiba who fed him and so, she must have been the witch. Crazy, right? Tituba was the perfect victim, because, at that time, local people were afraid of the French and Indians, because there was a chance of attack by those nations in New England.
The doctors continued to diagnose witchcraft as an illness and the church's way of praying and fasting didn't work. The author writes "in the early months of 1692, many in Salem were on edge that what people saw as accusations of witchcraft... Everywhere you turned, there was more evidence that devil was nearby... a culture of blame had taken root, and would require an agonizing year of accusations, trials, and deaths..."
The First Trial
The girls named two other women as suspects. Sara Good, a poor in her thirties, and Sara Osborne, a widow who didn't go to the church. All three of them went to the court with all villages attending the trial. Too many people arrived that the trial had to be moved to the town's meetinghouse. Osborne said that all the evidence was created by the devil (she means the cookie test), but the judges couldn't follow her logical thought. A weird thing happened when Tituba called to speak. She said that she was the witch. The author comments cleverly; "Tituba's confession was a map of a dreamland of evil." Due to her confession, she saved her life, because if she said otherwise, nobody would have believed a slave. She started a narration of meeting the devil, flying and moving with her spirit, etc. She also involved the other two girls, Sara Good and Sara Osborne in her dreamy "confession'. She told that the devil gave her a book, they made a pact, etc. We can notice that Tituba said what people in Europe believed to be witchcraft. She definitely had heard stories in the houses she worked and she used them to her "confession".
The Accuser Ann Putnam Spreads Hysteria
She is a 12-years-old girl who accused others of being witches. She claimed to see ghosts of dead people who told her things or tortured her. Those ghosts were sent by witches to her, so she knew who to accuse. She enjoyed the fact that she was the center of attention. The author comments; "Once she got a taste of this brew of vengeance, malice, cruelty, and exquisite power, perhaps it became addictive".
Ann accused a mixed-race child, Martha Corey, and then Rebecca Nurse, a wealthy married woman. She gave a performance of being tortured during the trial by the spirits of those women. Another day at the church, she said that she view the yellow bird that Tituba confessed to the persons she wanted to accuse. In her trial, Martha said "I am a gospel woman" and the rest of the court said "a gospel witch". That was the level of craziness. Another victim was Rebecca Nurse, who was accused of witchcraft in the past. In court, a man from the crowd said that he felt uneasy when she visited his house. This was enough. Cotton Parris said that the cause of witchcraft was the business success, seen in Salem town. At the end of the trial, Rebecca's sister, Sarah Cloyce left flinging the door. She was accused of Witchcraft for that. Then, new suspects came on court, women of the church. The husband of Tituba accused Sarah Cloyce and Elizabeth as deacons of the devil, who gathered to perform rituals. The theatre continued with him, Abigail Wiliams, and Ann Putnam to accuse these women of hurting them. The author comments; "There was no doubt about the law in Salem; it was the rule of the pack." Bridget Bishop who had the reputation of being a witch was also accused. She had bigger breasts and the court decided that this happened because she was feeding familiars! Also, she looked at her accusers and they stuck down. For Cotton Mather, this was another sign of witchcraft. She was the first woman who was executed. 26 were imprisoned at that time.
The new governor of Massachusetts wanted to take control, so he decided to execute the prisoners and to bring new judges. One of them, Nathaniel Saltonstall exited the trials, as he considered the case as a dream myth. He was a skeptic, but the crown was more powerful.
The next victim of Ann Putnam was the former minister of Salem, George Burroughs, who lived in another city. They arrested him because young Ann said that she had bewitched and killed his two wives, who in spirit, they visited Ann to tell her. Ann also accused Philip English, the richest man in Salem town and an opponent of her family. Then she accused captain Plymouth Colony. The accusation of a former minister was very severe and she told that she was the man in black, the devil, as it was initially told by Tituba. In his trial, he admitted he hadn't baptized 6 of his children and during his defense, he said that they are killing innocent people under the name of witchcraft. As we see, the former minister was way ahead of his time. The author notices that Burroughs "was the closest thing to a Christian martyr". Margaret Jacobs was one of those who accused the former minister of being a witch, and she "confessed" that she was a witch. All these were lies and lying is a sin, so she felt guilty. She visited Burroughs in the prison to ask for his forgiveness and then she couldn't sleep. She was playing the theatre of the accusers and the judges, but it had its consequences.
The trials continued and more people were hanged. More people were tortured being tied up in uncomfortable positions. Torture was considered a valid method when it was used by the judges, as it was a part of English law. Then we see that two judges decided when a person is executed as being a witch, his property should be taken too. You see, these people knew what they had to do to create chaos.
The End of Chaos
Mary Easty was accused of being a witch. The girls started the theatre during her questioning. She had the support of the minister and she was a good member of the church. The girls started a new round against her by saying that her spirit was attacking them. In her second apology, Mary asked the judges not to shed more innocent blood. The author comments; "With no hope of saving herself, she spoke simply as conscience and soul of the community". She suggested the judges examine each of the girls separately and compare their visions to see if they were true. Governor Phips followed the letters of two other people who also believed that the accusations were fake, set a new court with five judges. One of them Saltonstall quit in order to protest the killings. Phips stopped some executions and then he received a letter from London, that no more people should be killed. The previous judges started to believe they have been fooled by the girls and the crowd. The last harvest was bad a fact they believed it was a punishment from God. Reverend Williard's baby died and they started to think that they did something wrong. The jury apologized to the families of the dead "witches".
In 1697 a new minister arrived in Salem Village, Joseph Green. Eventually, Ann Putnam admitted she accused innocent people. Someone else told her what to do, but who? She said it was satan. Her trial injuries and attacks were made by satan. "The Puritan ministers believed that witches were real and should be killed. After the Salem trials, they could never again successfully act on that belief."
It amazes me how so many traditions follow these ancient protocols and roles,